I have had a lifelong love of skiing and this is now shared by my family. A year without skis and snow is a wasted opportunity.
After a successful business career, I sold my company and had the opportunity of a lifetime to purchase a ski-related property in an ideal location.
Fortunately one of my co-owners was also a ski buff and before long, buying a ski chalet became our only topic of conversation. We simply egged each other on.
Buying a ski chalet in France was a heart-over-head decision. But as my co-owner put it, what else are you going to do with your money? This would give us, our family and friends a great deal of pleasure over the years. He was right
The things we did right
Wealth real estate tax
The chalet was purchased on a co-owning basis; twice the use for half the price, plus it’s a fun shared adventure rather than an administrative burden. Sharing the purchase equally meant that, for both of us, the asset was below the wealth real estate tax threshold at the time.
New legislation was introduced in 2018 based on the market value as of 1st January. It is called IFI (impôt sur la fortune immobilière). You should seek specialist professional advice before considering a purchase in France.
After taking legal advice in France we structured the ownership as an en indivision (equivalent to a UK tenancy in common) between four parties (two husbands and two wives) to avoid inheritance complications in French law. Many UK buyers structure ownership as a company.
Be prepared beforehand because the laws of inheritance in France differ from those in the UK. Be aware of how you aim to own the property. You should also take your marital status into account i.e. married, divorced or an unmarried partnership. It all matters.
New build or existing
We bought the property new and furnished. It proved to be much less hassle and in France it was VAT-free, saving us 20%. Take great care with costs and fees, they can be complex and unusual to a UK buyer.
VAT rates differ if you buy land, an older property, an off-plan property, or a new property under five years old.
I speak French quite well. It has proven to be pretty essential for someone to have good local language skills. Not only is this helpful during the buying process, dealing with the vendor, the local mayor and the notaire, but also subsequently with tradespeople and the village locals.
If you aim to make France your second home, do brush up on your local language skills if you want to fit in.
Location, location, location
La Tania is the value-for-money part of the Trois Vallées (TV), situated mid-way between Méribel and Courchevel.
It has ski in and ski out convenience with all the access to the TV but without the Sloane Rangers of Méribel or the oligarch Russians of Courchevel.
Travel times from the UK
The Home Counties to La Tania is driveable in a day. Allow 12-14 hours from London. Don’t forget a winter pack of tyres and snow chains. You will also have to pay the tolls if using the autoroutes.
There are claims that a fuel-efficient car with five passengers is the ‘greenest’ way to get there, better than the train and a plane.
There are frequent budget airline flights via Geneva, Grenoble or Lyon.
To let, or not to let
To be honest, our chalet is beautiful and is a home from home. The ability to ski there is restricted to just a few months a year. In the summertime, the area is gorgeous but obviously not the same.
It was agreed with our co-owners to let the chalet for periods just enough to cover the running costs and minor maintenance to people we knew would respect it.
Utilities – keep it simple
Simple systems – for example, all-electric heating – means there is less to go wrong. Find a trusted quality local electrician and leave them to it.
Local management company
Top tip: employ a local English-speaking management company. It will save you time, money and anxiety.
Things we did wrong and other cons
Exchange rate arbitrage
The purchase was meant to be a Euro hedge, but we bought when the Euro was at its strongest so even with Sterling at Brexit lows the property value is not far off what we paid for it.
There is an ongoing concern about climate change and poor snowfall in the Alps. Our chalet is quite high up (about 1500m) and the snow-making equipment in the TV region is second to none. We haven’t had a poor ski season yet.
Ski days in La Tania 2007-2018
A continued lack of good snowfall would affect future property value.
Cash or mortgage
We could probably have bought with an ultralow interest Euro mortgage and therefore would have freed up capital, but we didn’t. Who knew that rates would be so low for so long?
There are times that I suffer a sense of guilt when we don’t use the chalet. It’s at the back of my mind. Due to my passion for skiing, owning in La Tania is a tie because we don’t get to ski elsewhere.
When I do travel to other foreign ski resorts, I suffer a double-pang of guilt.
Notes: This is a guest blog from a Capital client who was happy to share their real experiences of owning a home in France. The views are their own. This is not an endorsement to consider renting or buying a property abroad.